Drag Queen’s Den delves into the wild, complex, messy drag scene with zero inhibitions
Glyn Fussell has been a staple of London nightlife for over a decade. As the co-founder of seminal queer club night Sink The Pink and one of the minds behind the annual Mighty Hoopla festival, Fussell has cemented his spot as the mustached queen of clubs. Now he’s stepping out of east London and into the light of day to host the UK’s premiere drag podcast: Radio 1’s Drag Queen’s Den. Don’t be fooled by the name though, nobody is getting invited to a loft to be questioned on the profit-margins of lace-front wigs, and the closest thing to a dragon is Michelle Visage.
The podcast offers the audience a chance to listen in to honest, uncensored conversations about all types of drag between Fussell and his all-star guests. Made up of a combination of drag experts and superfans including Sam Smith, Jade Thirlwall, Olly Alexander, and Michelle Visage to name a few, Drag Queen’s Den promises to lift the wig on drag herstory and desmistify British drag culture for the masses. Each episode ends with a Dragony Aunt section, where Fussell and his guests answer the questions about drag that people have always been too afraid to ask.
We caught up with the presenter to talk about why a podcast like this is necessary right now, the pulsating UK drag scene, and the positive impact the art form of drag can have on the country.
What was your initial introduction to drag?
Glyn Fussell: My route in was accidental. I set up my own club, but drag was never my main focus. It was a night about expressing yourself. In the early days it was very DIY, me and Aimee Zing. Aimee could just roll in a bit of old glue and glitter and that's her look. We would raid pound shops – it kind of accidently got called drag, but we looked like vomit!
We started Sink the Pink 10 years ago and RuPaul's Drag Race started at the same time. We were like the anti-RuPaul – we weren’t polished, we were about being messy club kids. We became a Mecca and pilgrimage. After about four years, we realised we were leading a drag revolution. But what is drag? What is the motivation? In America, after Rupaul, a lot of it is about female impersonation, but a lot of people who come through our nights don’t have that same motivation. Some of them are clowney, some of them are fashion, and some of them are about looking like a sexy poo.
Why do you think the podcast is necessary right now?
Glyn Fussell: This is counterculture, drag is the new emo, it’s about self-expression. Drag stands for people who don't want to conform. Young people in the UK want to experiment with gender or their image and drag seems to be blowing up because it’s a rebellion to what's going on in the world.
What would you like people outside of drag culture to know about it?
Glyn Fussell: The biggest thing that I've learned is that people come and find their family. A lot of people I've met through drag have come from hardship, hostile backgrounds where families may not have been very supportive and they found these groups of people that celebrate individuality. It creates a family that is totally forgiving. That’s the one thing that Rupaul doesn't stand for, it is a competition and a TV show which comes with a certain level of production and gloss, and doesn't come with 10 years of club friendships. I've been doing a lot of gigs for the past 10 years all over the UK so I know queens in Manchester, Bristol, Brighton, and the support is overwhelming.
I think drag can be intimidating but it should be for everyone, ultimately, we are the modern court jester. That shouldn't just be for the people in the club or people of a certain sexuality. I wanted this show to sound like you were listening to a few queens backstage drinking a few Red Stripe because that's when I feel that we are most authentic. It is uncensored and I think that is a bold move on the BBC’s part, you can't censor a drag queen.
Can you tell me about some of your favourite guests?
Glyn Fussell: I wanted people who are really invested in what we do. We have the mother of drag Michelle Visage on the first episode, and later in the season we have Sam Smith and Olly Alexander. Greg James was pretty marvelous to be honest, because he had a few wines and we found out that he had tried drag back in the day. He's the everyman’s straight guy – this is why drag is wonderful. I mean, I've seen the photos, he's not great but he’s giving it a go! Drag is for everyone. They’ve all taught me something really. Through this, I've learned things about people who are really close to me that I didn't know – a lot of the time you're just meeting people in a club, but in this show we sit down and have an hour-long conversation. I'm fangirling Titi Bang now, because I’d only really met her in nightlife situations. Sitting down with her for an hour my jaw, was on the floor. She’s an amazing woman.
I’ve also learned that drag queens need to wear more deodorant in the confined spaces of a studio.
What’s the podcast's main mission?
Glyn Fussell: We're talking to men, women, non-binary people, and all genders, and by just having conversations and including the listener we're demystifying a lot of misconceptions. We’re not preachy or political, we’re doing it in an entertaining and inclusive way – that's what I stand for. I think there’s nothing worse than being snobby about your beliefs because it alienates people, who have the right to ask questions and listen in. If it changes the minds of a few kids that’s job done! We're living in a particularly boring time, people are ready for something a bit more flamboyant and joyous. Everything is a bit safe, I remember when pop stars were larger than life characters. Drag is as far into counterculture as it can go, so I think people are just enjoying the escapism of drag at the moment. There’s a tendency to over-politicise things... sometimes the people that are offended by things don't have a right to be, I'm offended by their offence!
What do you love about UK drag?
Glyn Fussell: I just love the shits and giggles, I have had so much fun. I always say there was my life before drag and my life after, and it’s opened up my world to remaining an eternal child, to be an eternal punk, by questioning everything and not doing what I'm told to. It’s a licence to be ridiculous, free, and full of joy, there's nothing you can't like about it. I just keep meeting the best nutbags – drag churns them out, it's like the broken biscuits at the bottom of a biscuit tin all coming together to make a glorious drag cheesecake. You just meet the best most bonkers people, full of the best stories and views on the world. I do love the untarnished, raw side of drag in the UK. I don't want a wig to be glued down, I want it to be on the back of the queens head by the end of the performance!
Listen to Radio 1’s Drag Queens’ Den at 3am (Wednesdays) or on BBC Sounds (Mondays)